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Apocalypticism is the religious belief that there will be an apocalypse, a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to belief that the world will come to an end time very soon, even within one's own lifetime. This belief is usually accompanied by the idea that civilization will soon come to a tumultuous end due to some sort of catastrophic global event.
Apocalypticism is often conjoined with esoteric knowledge that will likely be revealed in a major confrontation between good and evil forces, destined to change the course of history. Apocalypses can be viewed as good, evil, ambiguous or neutral, depending on the particular religion or belief system promoting them. They can appear as a personal or group tendency, an outlook or a perceptual frame of reference, or merely as expressions in a speaker's rhetorical style.
- 1 Jewish apocalypticism
- 2 Christian apocalypticism
- 3 Apocalypticism in Islam
- 4 Apocalypticism in contemporary culture
- 5 See also
- 6 Further reading (chronological)
- 7 References
Jewish apocalypticism holds a doctrine that there are two eras of history: the present era, which is ruled over by evil, and a coming era to be ruled over by God. At the time of the coming era, there will be a messiah who will deliver the faithful into the new era. Due to incidents arising very early on in Jewish history, predictions about the time of the coming of the Jewish messiah were highly discouraged, lest people lose faith when the predictions did not come true during the lifespan of the believer.
Moses of Crete, a rabbi in the 5th century, claimed to be the messiah and promised to lead the people, like the ancient Moses, through a parted sea back to Palestine. His followers left their possessions and waited for the promised day, when, at his command, many cast themselves into the sea, some finding death, others being rescued by sailors.
Christian apocalypticism is based on Jewish apocalypticism, and therefore holds consistent with the doctrine of two eras. John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Apostles were all apocalypticists who are believed by some to have preached to their followers that the world would end within their own lifetimes. The apocalyptic preaching of John the Baptist and the Apostles is well known and accepted as historical by religious and secular scholars due to extensive extra-biblical historical accounts of their lives. However, the apocalyptic message of Jesus as expressed in the synoptic gospels is much less well known. Jesus' apocalyptic teachings are usually not emphasized in Christian religious education. However, some secular scholars believe that Jesus' apocalyptic teachings were the central message Jesus intended to impart, more central even than his messianism.
Various Christian eschatological systems have developed, providing different frameworks for understanding the timing and nature of apocalyptic predictions. Some like dispensational premillennialism tend more toward an apocalyptic vision, while others like postmillennialism and amillennialism, while teaching that the end of the world could come at any moment, tend to focus on the present life and contend that one should not attempt to predict when the end should come, though there have been exceptions such as postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who attempted to calculate the precise timing of the end times.
The gospels portray Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, described by himself and by others as the Son of Man – translated as the Son of Humanity – and hailing the restoration of Israel. Jesus himself, as the Son of God, a description also used by himself and others for him, was to rule this kingdom as lord of the Twelve Apostles, the judges of the twelve tribes.
Albert Schweitzer emphasized that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, preparing his fellow Jews for the imminent end of the world. In fact, Schweitzer saw Jesus as a failed, would-be Messiah whose ethic was suitable only for the short interim before the apocalypse. Many historians concur that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, most notably Paula Fredriksen, Bart Ehrman, and John P. Meier. E. P. Sanders portrays Jesus as expecting to assume the "viceroy" position in God's kingdom, above the Twelve Disciples, who would judge the twelve tribes, but below God. He concludes, however, that Jesus seems to have rejected the title Messiah, and he contends that the evidence is uncertain to whether Jesus meant himself when he referred to the Son of Man coming on the clouds as a divine judge (see also Daniel's Vision of Chapter 7), and further states that biblical references to the Son of Man as a suffering figure are not genuine.
However, the prevailing popular exegesis is not that Jesus was a failed would-be Messiah, nor an apocalypicist. One interpretation is that he did not expect a world-ending apocalypse within his own lifetime, but rather a "personal apocalypse", i.e., the end of his own life. The 'personal apocalypse' theory caveat could be interpreted as a rebuttal in that Jesus never predicted an actual apocalypse at all. Jesus' cryptic style of presentation called for the listener to interpret the words he spoke in different ways.
'Personal apocalypse' could refer to the metaphorical apocalypse of the Book of Revelation in that the battle between good and evil wages daily within the hearts and souls of those who believe and will only end the day that individual's life comes to an end. Some Christian believers and theologians interpret the Book of Revelation to mean an actual, literal apocalypse based on fairly literal readings of biblical references.
One account supporting the interpretation of Jesus' apocalypticism is at the crucifixion. After there is no apocalypse upon his crucifixion as he believed there would be, he asks on the Cross, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" The disciples then have to change their interpretation of Jesus' message as portrayed in Acts of the Apostles.
The preaching of John was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat. 3:2), and Jesus also taught this same message (Mat 4:17; Mark 1:15). Additionally, Jesus spoke of the signs of "the close of the age" in the Olivet Discourse in Mat 24 (and parallels), near the end of which he said, "[T]his generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (v. 34). Interpreters have understood this phrase in a variety of ways, some saying that most of what he described was in fact fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple in the Roman Siege of Jerusalem (see Preterism), and some that "generation" should be understood instead to mean "race" (see NIV marginal note on Mat 24:34) among other explanations.
There are a few recorded instances of apocalypticism leading up to the year 1000. However they mostly rely on one source, Rodulfus Glaber.
When William the Conqueror, initiated a census of his conquered land, the "Domesday Book", as it was called, was interpreted by many of the English as being the "Book of Life" written of in Revelation. The belief was that when the book was completed, the end of the world would come.
Fifth Monarchy Men
The Fifth Monarchy Men were active from 1649 to 1661 during the Interregnum, following the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. They took their name from a belief in a world-ruling kingdom to be established by a returning Jesus in which prominently figures the year 1666 and its numerical relationship to a passage in the Biblical Book of Revelation indicating the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings.
Around 1649, there was great social unrest in England and many people turned to Oliver Cromwell as England's new leader. The Parliamentary victors of the First English Civil War failed to negotiate a constitutional settlement with the defeated King Charles I. Members of Parliament and the Grandees in the New Model Army, when faced with Charles's perceived duplicity, reluctantly tried and executed him.
Isaac Newton and the end of the world in 2060
Isaac Newton proposed that the world would not end until the year 2060, based largely on his own study and deciphering of Bible codes.
Millerites and Seventh-day Adventists
The ideological descendants of the Millerites are the Seventh-day Adventists, who are distinguished among Christian denominations for their emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. One notable example was the following of Margaret Rowen, a member of the Los Angeles Seventh-Day Adventists, who believed the second coming of Jesus was to strike on February 6, 1925.
Apocalypticism in Islam
Apocalypticism in contemporary culture
Abrahamic religious themes
Harold Camping and his 2011 end times prediction
The 2011 end times prediction made by American Christian radio host Harold Camping stated that the Rapture and Judgment Day would take place on May 21, 2011, and that the end of the world would take place five months later on October 21, 2011.
A UFO religion sometimes features an anticipated end-time in which extraterrestrial beings will bring about a radical change on Earth or lift the religious believers to a higher plane of existence. One such religious group's failed expectations of such an event served as the basis for the classic social psychology study When Prophecy Fails.
Apocalypticism was especially evident with the approach of the millennial year 2000, in which simultaneous computer crashes caused by uncorrected instances of the Y2k bug were expected to throw global commerce and financial systems into chaos. Massive although often ill-directed software updates and replacement ensured that the remaining software bugs had minimal effect. Piggy-backing on these issues, and probably driven by the "interesting date" unsupported allegations of an apocalypse were common.
Mayan calendar 2012
The 2012 doomsday prediction was a contemporary cultural meme proposing that cataclysmic and apocalyptic events would occur on December 21, 2012. This idea has been disseminated by numerous books, Internet sites and by TV documentaries with increasing frequency since the late 1990s. This date is derived from the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which completes 12 baktuns or 1 Great cycle equaling 5,125 years on December 21 or 23, 2012. There is also a movie called 2012 made in 2009 inspired from this theory. The prediction given by the Mayans about what would happen at the end of this Great Cycle is described as a rebirth of this world and the beginning of an age of enlightenment. There are also other interpretations of assorted legends, scriptures, numerological constructions and prophecies encircling this date.
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Christian premillennial apocalyptic writers
- Seventh-day Adventist Church
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- The Brethren (Jim Roberts group), also known as "The Body of Christ".
- Branch Davidians
Further reading (chronological)
- Boyer, Paul S. (1992). When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-95128-X
- Cohn, Norman. (1993). Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09088-9
- Aukerman, Dale. (1993). Reckoning with Apocalypse. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 0-8245-1243-X
- O’Leary, Stephen. (1994). Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508045-9
- Quinby, Lee. (1994). Anti-Apocalypse: Exercises in Genealogical Criticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-2278-7 (hard bound) ISBN 0-8166-2279-5 (paperback)
- Strozier, Charles B. (1994). Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-1226-2
- Fuller, Robert C. (1995). Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508244-3
- Thompson, Damian. (1996). The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN 1-85619-795-6
- Thompson, Damian. (1997). The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England. ISBN 0-87451-849-0
- Strozier, Charles B, and Michael Flynn, eds. 1997. The Year 2000: Essays on the End. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-8030-X (hard bound) ISBN 0-8147-8031-8 (paperback)
- Robbins, Thomas, and Susan J. Palmer, eds. 1997. Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91648-8 (hard bound) ISBN 0-415-91649-6 (paperback)
- Heard, Alex and Klebnikov, Peter, December 27, 1998, "Apocalypse Now. No, Really. Now!", The New York Times Magazine
- Stewart, Kathleen and Susan Harding. 1999. "Bad Endings: American Apocalypsis." Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, pp. 285–310.
- Allison, Dale C. (1999) Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Augsburg Fortress) ISBN 0-8006-3144-7
- Wessinger, Catherine, ed.. 2000. Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases. Religion and Politics Series, Michael Barkun, (ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2809-9 (hard bound) ISBN 0-8156-0599-4 (paperback)
- Stone, Jon R., ed. 2000. Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92331-X (paperback)
- Brasher, Brenda E. 2000. "From Revelation to The X-Files: An Autopsy of Millennialism in American Popular Culture", Semeia 82:281–295.
- Mason, Carol. 2002. Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-life Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3920-5 (hard cover) ISBN 0-8014-8819-2 (paperback)
- Urstadt, Bryant. 2006. "Imagine there's no oil: scenes from a liberal apocalypse. (Viewpoint essay)." Harper's Magazine 313.1875 (August 2006): 31(9) 
- Kobb, Kurt. 2006. "Apocalypse always: Is the peak oil movement really just another apocalyptic cult?" (August 5, 2006). http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2006/08/apocalypse-always-is-peak-oil-movement.html Accessed on October 14, 2006.
- Zuquete, Jose Pedro. "Apocalyptic Movements."Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2012
- Donna Kossy, Kooks
- Bart D. Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet
- Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition)
- Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. Chapter 15, Jesus' view of his role in God's plan.
- "Jesus Returning to Earth On May 21, 2011". Flashnews.com. 2010-07-30. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
- "Prophets predict the end of the world to 2011 may 21". Wikinews. 2011-05-21. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- "May 21, 2011: Judgment Day believers descend on Joburg". The Daily Maverick. Retrieved 2010-11-29.